frisson

“The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.” Calvino, “Invisible Cities”

“Sometimes I picture a botany book in the future saying something like, ‘The lilac is now extinct. Its fragrance is thought to have been similar to–?’ and then what can they say?” Warhol, “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol”

“Another way the Kaluli dialectic between what is hidden and what is revealed emerges is powerfully signaled by the intersensory iconic mama, ‘reflection’ or ‘reverberation.’ Mama is one’s image in water, or in the mirror; it is the close-up reflection of onesself in the eyeball of another, the visual presence of the self apart from the self. It is also the lingering audio fragment of a decaying sound, its projection outward as it resounds by vanishing upward in the forest. Like the fading sharpness of a mirror image, mama is the trace of audio memory, fragmentary sonic remembrances as they reverberate.” Feld, “Places Sensed, Senses Placed”

As I write my field statement on place, or, more accurately, place-as-imagined-by-archaeologists-in-the-last-ten-years, I find myself colliding with memory and the senses. I am constantly having to draw myself back to the main topic, but place is so laden with sense and memory that it seems impossible to exclude them. It doesn’t help that the film I’m working on concurrently is about the sensory experience of place.

Back to Warhol’s lilac though, one of the central problems of archaeology is analogy–the link between the thing in the past and our knowledge of it in the present. As archaeologists, we all deal with the “and then what can they say?” His quote goes on, “Maybe they’ll be able to give it as a chemical formula. Maybe they already can.” Yes, Andy, it has been given as a chemical formula. But, ironically, he leaves out the bit that you’d think he would be the best at–imagination. And that frisson is what separates the great archaeology from the merely mechanical.

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